Migraine and Magnesium

Medical specialists have recently recommended that all migraine sufferers should be treated with magnesium supplementation (1).

Migraine and Magnesium
Research shows the benefits of magnesium (citrate) supplementation in preventing and reducing migraines.

A migraine is more than just a headache, it has a huge impact on the lives of sufferers and costs the UK more than £2.25 billion per year. One in seven people in the UK suffers with migraine, with women more likely to be affected than men. Fortunately, nutritional strategies can be very successful in helping sufferers by reducing the severity of symptoms and the frequency of attacks.

Clients who come to see me about migraine often need a personalised approach, as the condition and its triggers can be very individual. It is always important to consider dietary factors that can trigger an attack. A diet high in sugary foods and processed ‘high glycemic’ carbohydrates can trigger a migraine by causing episodes of hypoglycaemia. Food intolerances are also fairly common, with sufferers reacting to substances such as amines in chocolate, cheese, beer and wine. Excess salt, artificial sweeteners and wheat have also been identified as possible culprits. Allergic reactions to food can cause platelets to release serotonin and histamine, triggering a migraine attack in sensitive individuals.

Because migraines can be so individual, it can be difficult to make blanket treatment recommendations to sufferers. However, a recent article published in the Journal of Neural Transmission last week may change this. The article, written by two doctors with a particular interest in headache and migraine, recommended that all migraine sufferers should be treated with magnesium supplementation.

Magnesium deficiency is very common, affecting around 15% of the population (2). Poor intake is a common reason for deficiency, as a diet high in natural, plant-based wholefoods is essential for sufficient magnesium intake. Likewise, a diet high in sugar and refined carbohydrates leads to depleted magnesium levels. The authors also explain that poor absorption, stress and excessive excretion of magnesium by the kidneys can contribute to magnesium deficiency.

The authors suggest several ways that magnesium levels can be linked with migraine. For example, adequate levels of magnesium are essential in maintaining vascular tone and preventing neural hyperexcitation. Magnesium is also linked to the availability of serotonin, a neurotransmitter than can contribute to migraine by affecting the constriction of blood vessels in the brain.

The problem with testing for magnesium deficiency is that blood tests are not a reliable way to determine magnesium levels. This is because magnesium tends to ‘hide away’ inside cells and in bone, and so cannot be measured accurately in a blood test.

For this reason, the authors recommend that all migraine sufferers should be treated with oral magnesium. Their reasoning is that it is difficult to determine whether somebody is deficient in magnesium. However, such supplementation is harmless for those who are not magnesium deficient, and is potentially very helpful for those who are indeed deficient.

The best forms of magnesium are organic forms such as magnesium citrate, malate or aspartate. Inorganic forms, such as magnesium oxide, are less well absorbed, and more likely to have a laxative effect. If magnesium produces loose stools or diarrhoea, then the dosage should be reduced to a more tolerable level. The form of magnesium I most often recommend is magnesium citrate, at a level of 300-400mg per day. Dividing the dose and taking a well-absorbed form helps to reduce the likelihood of any side-effects.

For a condition such as migraine, which can have a huge impact on the wellbeing of sufferers, magnesium could provide welcome relief. The authors conclude that “considering that up to 50% of patients with migraines could potentially benefit from this extremely safe and very inexpensive treatment, it should be recommended to all migraine patients.”

Written by Nadia Mason, BSc MBANT NTCC CNHC


1. Magnesium effective in the treatment of migraine
Maukop A, et al. Why all migraine patients should be treated with magnesium. J Neural Transm 2012 May;119(5):575-9

2. 2. Schimatschek HF, Rempis R (2001) Prevalence of hypomagnesemia
in an unselected German population of 16,000 individuals. Magnes Res 14:283–290